Commentary: Avoid Creativity Killers, Challenge Your Comfort Zone Instead

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In my 25 years in advertising I don’t remember anyone ever hiring my agency to help them blend in. Yet, it happens on occasion because of a client’s ignorance, bureaucracy or fear-based decision making.

Decision by committee is also a killer of great creative. On this point the great adman, David Ogilvy, said, “Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.” He was right! Committees are the quickest way to get bland, watered-down ads.

Nor is “safe” a strategy. It’s a recipe for mediocrity. Facts can bore your audience to death. The best ads are inspirational – not informational. Leo Burnett, another advertising icon, agreed: “… one of the greatest dangers of advertising is not that of misleading people, but that of boring them to death.”

There are so many hurdles that can get in the way of great work. Creativity is tough enough to conjure as Ogilvy’s Jock Elliott once admonished: “Big ideas are so hard to recognize, so fragile, so easy to kill. Don’t forget that, all of you, who don’t have them.” It’s even tougher when the client puts up roadblocks, sometimes unwittingly, to success.

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The truth is, success often lies outside the comfort zone.

Our best work – the kind that wins awards, creates buzz AND delivers great results – almost always happens because a client was decisive and allowed us to push beyond his or her comfort zone.

What exactly do I mean by “stepping out of the comfort zone?” By my experience it means a client:

• Who acknowledges that he or she has hired professionals who should be trusted;

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• Who knows that our goals are aligned;

• Who is willing to allow for creative exploration;

• Who can grasp creative rationale even if it does not match his or her personal tastes or sensibilities; and

• Who will embrace an idea and become an emboldened advocate for it within his or her business or organization.

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A calculated amount of risk can truly make a big difference … which leads me to a bus, a chainsaw and a hapless bonsai tree.

Our client, Vicinity, makes purpose-built buses for smaller communities. They are the David to a handful of Goliaths they can’t outspend for market share. Instead, they recently veered outside the comfort zone to outsmart their much larger competitors with a campaign guaranteed to stand out from the crowd.

Cue the chainsaw!

Vicinity buses are the right(sized) tool for the job.

To illustrate this point, we used the metaphor of the insanity of using a chainsaw to prune a tiny bonsai tree – to ill effect – just as cutting down a large bus to fit the needs of smaller communities makes no sense. It’s a smart solution versus the sea-of-sameness of all other bus manufacturer ads.

Plus, our research unveiled an insight that was too powerful to pass up: no one making mass transit purchase decisions wants to make the mistake of putting the wrong-sized fleet of buses on its roadways.

The campaign debuted at the American Public Transit Association’s annual trade show to great interest and reviews. It was also featured in the online edition of Britain’s The Drum advertising creative showcase. My personal LinkedIn post of the video attracted more than 600 views (see the video here:

And it easily could have never happened except for a client with the courage to take a risk.

One last thought: on conviction versus risk, investment executive, Phil Morle, says: “Humans generally weight the avoidance of bad things over the pursuit of good things. A downside frame leads to great opportunities being missed or made smaller – and that is the biggest risk of all.”

Here’s to the brave ones who aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zones!

Allen Wallach is CEO of PAVLOV Advertising. He can be reached at